December 2, 2023

Will There Be More Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreaks This Year?

This is the time of year that we typically start seeing E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, as the harvest patters shift. Will there be more romaine lettuce E. coli outbreaks this year?

Will There Be More Romaine Lettuce E. coli Outbreaks This Year?

Studies have shown that fall harvested romaine is more likely to case E. coli outbreaks.  The problem may be that the pathogen survives better on cold stored packaged romaine lettuce. In November, harvest shifts to the Yuma, Arizona region and the area of California near the Imperial Valley.

And the issue with this type of lettuce is its shape and the way it’s grown. The lettuce is grown very close to the ground. And the cup shape holds water, which lets any pathogens in that water have easy access to the leaves. The bacteria can get inside the leaves, and it can also burrow into the crenelations, becoming very difficult to remove.

Between the years of 1998 and 2019, there were 36 outbreaks that were traced back to lettuce, particularly romaine lettuce, that was harvested in the fall on the California Central Coast, and in late winter in Arizona and Southern California.

In 2021, there were several unsolved E. coli outbreaks. Some were potentially linked to romaine lettuce, but investigators could not pinpoint the source of those illnesses. One mystery E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened at least 22 people and hospitalized 11 was caused by the same strain that was linked to previous romaine lettuce outbreaks.

And in 2020, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened at least 40 people in 19 states and hospitalized 20, with four hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cases, was caused by leafy greens. But again, investigators could not identify a single ranch as a common source of those greens. A positive match to the outbreak strain was found in a sample of cattle feces on a roadside, uphill from where leafy greens identified in traceback were grown.

Other recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce include the alleged Wendy’s outbreak this year, which sickened at least 109 people and hospitalized 52; and the mystery outbreak earlier this year, which sickened four people.

To protect yourself, stay aware of any recalls and outbreak announcements by the FDA and the CDC. Consider buying greenhouse grown romaine, although those plants can be contaminated as well. And know the symptoms of an E. coli infection and HUS so you can get help early if necessary.

Attorneys at the Pritzker Hageman Food Safety Law Firm

If you have been diagnosed with a E. coli O157:H7 infection from contaminated romaine lettuce, please contact our experienced attorneys for help with a possible lawsuit at 1-888-377-8900 or text us at 612-261-0856. Our firm represents clients in lawsuits against grocery stores, restaurants, and food processors.

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